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THE ancestors of WILLIAM HENRY SEWARD were of Welsh extraction. The first of that name in America emigrated from Wales during the reign of Queen Ann, and settled in Connecticut. A branch of the family, from which Mr. Seward is descended, removed to Morris Co., N. J., about the year 1740. His paternal grandfather, John Seward, resided in Sussex Co., in that state, where he sustained a high reputation for enterprise, integrity and ability. On the breaking out of the Revolution, he became a prominent leader of the whig party, and on more than one occasion during the long struggle, was engaged in active service. He died in 1799, leaving a family of ten children. His son, Samuel S. Seward, received an academic and professional education, instead of a share in the paternal inheritance. Having completed his studies, he established himself in the practice of medicine in his native place, and soon after became connected in marriage with Mary Jennings, the daughter of Isaac Jennings, of Goshen, New York.
Removing to Florida, a village in the town of Warwick, in Orange Co., N. Y., in the year 1795, he combined a large mercantile business with an extensive range of professional practice, each of which he carried on successfully for the space of twenty years. He retired from active business in 1815, and devoted himself to the cultivation of the estate, of which, by constant industry and economy, he had become the owner. Dr. Seward was a man of more than common intellect, of excellent business talents, and of strict probity. After his withdrawal from business, he was in the habit of lending money to a considerable extent among the
farmers in his neighborhood; and it is said that no man was ever excused from paying the lawful interest on his loans—that no man was permitted to pay him more than that interest-and that no man who paid his interest punctually was ever required to pay any part of the principal. He was a zealous advocate of republican principles, and exerted a leading influence in the affairs of the party. In 1804, he was elected to the legislature, and during the continuance of the republicans in power, he was never without one or more offices of public trust. Although not a member of the legal profession, he was appointed First Judge of Orange County, in 1815, which office he held for seventeen years. His` exercise of the judicial functions was marked by discretion, impartiality, and promptness, and he is remembered to this day as one of the best judges the county ever had. After a visit to Europe, he lived in the enjoyment of universal respect until 1849, when he died in a ripe old age. Dr. Seward was the friend of religion, education, and public improvement. He founded the "S. S. Seward Institute," at Florida, an excellent high school for young persons of both sexes. He endowed this seminary with a permanent fund of $20,000, and continued its steadfast friend until the close of his life.
The wife of Dr. Seward was Mary Jennings, whose family had emigrated from Ireland at an early day. She was a woman of a clear and vigorous understanding, with singular cheerfulness of temper, and while devoted with untiring industry to the interests of her family, was a model of hospitality, charity, and self-forgetfulness. She died in 1843.
The subject of this memoir never forgot that he had Irish blood in his veins. This fact serves to explain, in part, the strong attachment he has always cherished for the Irish population of our country. While travelling through Ireland in 1833, his indignation was greatly aroused by the sight of the oppressions inflicted on the people by the British Government. He ascribed a large share of the miseries of that unhappy country to its political mismanagement, and especially to the annihilation of its parliament, by the act of union. In writing home from Ireland, he expresses himself in the following terms:
"But all this glory has departed. The very shadow, (and for a long time the Irish Parliament was but the shadow) of independence has vanished; Ireland has surrendered the individuality of her national existence, to share, like a younger sister, that
of England. The walls of the parliament house remain in all their primitive grandeur, to reproach the degeneracy of her statesmen. Whilst traversing its apartments, I reverted to the debate when the degenerate representatives surrendered their parliament; and I thought that had I occupied a place there, I would have seen English armies wade in blood over my country, before I would have assented to so disgraceful an union. Something might have been spared, after the deed was consummated, to the wounded pride of the Irish people. The parliament house ought to have been closed, and left in gloomy solitude, a monument to remind the people that they once had a country. But this was too great a concession for the economy of the English administration of affairs in Ireland. They who build palaces and monuments with a profuse hand, on the other side of the channel, sold the Irish Capitol, and it was forthwith converted into a hall for money-changers. I confess that overleaping all the obstacles which are deemed by many well-wishers of Ireland insurmountable, I wish the repeal of the union. I will not believe that if relieved of that oppressive act, she does not possess the ability to govern herself."
In a private letter, written by Mr. Seward in 1840, to a gentleman who had taken strong exceptions to his sentiments in relation to Irishmen, the following passage occurs, in regard to the Irish lineage of his mother. After defending the character of the Irish from some severe charges made by his correspondent, and alluding to their many virtues, he says:
"If this confession of faith seems strange to you, permit me to explain that I could not believe otherwise, without doing dishonor to a mother eminent for many virtues, and to the memories of humble ancestors, whose names will not be saved from obscurity by the record of any extraordinary vices."
WILLIAM HENRY SEWARD was born in Florida, May 16th, 1801. The house in which his parents then resided is still standing; but the old-fashioned village church and school-house, where his youthful feet were wont to tread, have given place to more modern structures. A venerable forest-tree on the ancient homestead still overshadows a clear, bubbling spring of water, which William was in the habit of frequenting in his school-boy days, with his books, for the purpose of reading and study in its cool and pleasant retirement. His boyhood is well remembered by the aged inhabitants of his native village. They love to recall their predictions of the future eminence of the studious lad, whose diligence and zeal had already attracted their attention. The colored servant, then a slave of his father's, who led him in infancy, and shared his juvenile sports, still lives to rejoice in the bounty of her young companion, who has given a comfortable home for her old age, in memory of their early attachment.
The subject of our narrative entered upon life amidst external circumstances adapted to cherish and develope the higher elements
of his nature. The local scenery of Florida is scarcely surpassed in the country for beauty and magnificence. On each side, mountains of impressive grandeur rear their blue summits into the skies, while the broad and fertile valleys, watered by numerous rivulets and miniature lakes, enriched by genial and appropriate culture, and smiling in joyous abundance, complete the majestic and lovely panorama. The people of Florida, unlike the inhabitants of most other towns in that part of the state, were originally emigrants from New England. They were accordingly imbued with much of the stern and lofty spirit of the Puritans, while their descendants still retained many of their habits and feelings. Brought up amidst such sublime and ennobling scenes of natureinheriting from a worthy ancestry the purest sentiments of honor and patriotism-imbibing, with his mother's milk, the love of truth, freedom, and equality, the mind of young Seward early received a powerful impulse towards the career of beneficent greatness, which has amply fulfilled the prophetic anticipations of his youthful associates and admirers.
One of the first acts remembered by the friends of young William Henry, was in no small degree significant of his juvenile tendencies. He ran away to school-most truants run in the opposite direction. His taste for books was displayed at an early age. They were his favorite companions, and he was seldom seen without a volume in his hands. His thirst for knowledge, once nearly cost him his life. When about twelve years of turning near nightfall from a pasture on his father's farm, driving home the cows, he read a book as he walked, giving an occasional look to his charge, that was travelling quietly before him. A party of boys espied the abstracted herdsman, and disturbed his studious reveries with a volley of small stones. Resolved not to be disturbed in his reading by the missiles of his thoughtless companions, he turned his back towards them, and walked backwards with his eye intently fixed upon his book. In a short time, he insensibly diverged from the path, and missing the bridge over a small creek, was thrown into the water. An elder brother, who had witnessed the accident, drew him from the stream in a state of unconsciousness, and he was fortunately restored without serious injury.
His precocious intellect, and his docile, cheerful disposition, led his parents to decide on giving him a superior education to that